Taconic Wins Rematch with Pittsfield, Reaches Western Mass Final
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The last time the Pittsfield and Taconic football teams faced off, it was to open up the regular season and it took overtime to decide a winner.
In that game the Generals won by two, but eight weeks later Taconic claimed victory 19-12 over their city rivals in the Western Mass D5 semi-finals Friday night at Wahconah Park.
It almost all came down to the two-point conversion again this time around. With 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the game, trailing by seven, Pittsfield created a huge takeaway when senior Gio Figueroa ripped the ball from Taconic running back Cedric Rose as he broke off his fourth rush of over 10 yards and was fighting to gain more. At the 40-yard line Figueroa muscled the ball out and started towards the Taconic end zone making it all the way down to the Taconic 19.
The Generals got two chances to score from the 16-yard line but the passes were incomplete. Taconic took over with just more than 40 seconds to play and kneel out the clock.
“My kids are tough. They played hard,” Pittsfield coach Brian Jezewski said. “Couple breaks didn’t go our way. Go made a tremendous play but unfortunately we didn’t capitalize. We played good defensively but offensively we kept on stubbing our toes especially down in the red zone. I’m real proud of my senior class and my heart breaks for them. They played really hard.”
Pittsfield got down early in the game when Taconic junior quarterback Jake McNeice got loose for a 29-yard quarterback keeper around the left side with just 5 seconds left before the end of the first quarter. Taconic decided to kick the extra point, and Brandon Peaslee split the uprights.
A minute, 26 seconds later junior linebacker Anthony Whiteley intercepted Pittsfield’s Kolbe Muzzy with an impressive jumping catch and then sped up the sideline for an 18-yard pick six. The second try at the extra point was blocked by Generals.
Shortly after his interception, Whiteley suffered an injury while on defense and was taken off by an ambulance with a lower body injury. Whiteley is one of the best running backs in the county and a big part of his team’s offense.
“At first we were down,” said McNeice about the injury. “Then we circled up and talked about it. After that we came together and really played the game even harder for him.”
“They wanted to play for Anthony,” Taconic coach Jim Ziter said. “Cedric Rose, a sophomore running back, stepped up huge. That’s what we expect. Next man up and that’s what they did tonight. They all pulled together.”
Down 13-0 with 3:28 left, it was the Pittsfield defense that answered Whiteley’s pick. Junior Shawn Morgan picked off McNeice to give his team great field position on the Taconic 38-yard line. Next play Muzzy dropped back and found classmate Mason Papirio for a 38-yard touchdown pass on a beautiful deep ball thrown down the left sideline. The Generals’ two-point conversion attempt came up short and they went into half down seven.
Coming out of halftime, Taconic had a chance to extend its lead to double digits again but on the first possession it went three and out to give Pittsfield a shot at tying it up. The Generals put together an eight-play drive to get them down to the Taconic 20 yard line, but they turned it back over on downs.
Taconic’s second shot at extending their lead started with a little luck when Rose had the ball poked out from behind, and his lineman senior Damien Armstrong recovered it for what turned into a six-yard gain. A penalty for a chop block on the next play lost them 27 yards after a Rose 13-yard run to the 43 was brought all the way back to the 16.
The possession ended with a ton of luck on the ensuing play when McNeice dropped back on second and 24 from his own 20 yard line and scrambled away from multiple defenders before heaving up a deep shot down the middle of the field toward senior tight end David McIntosh. McIntosh and two Pittsfield defenders went up after the ball but none got a clean shot at it and it bounced into the air where junior wide receiver Devon Walker grabbed it and outran the defense for an 84-yard touchdown catch.
“I was getting rushed and I thought I saw David McIntosh open,” said McNeice. “Clearly he wasn’t but I have really good athletes at receiver so they really just do the work for me on that one.”
“I just thought if this goes incomplete, it has a chance to bounce back or bounce up,” said Walker about the play. “The were getting momentum back with our running back getting hurt and then they scored. We went to halftime. Came back together and held strong.”
Now trailing 19-6 late in the third quarter, the Generals put together a 10-play, 74-yard drive all the way inside the Taconic 6 that Included a play when Muzzy threw a 20-yard pass to the left corner of the end zone where junior Tyrell Boire reeled in the catch and looked to have gotten one foot down but the referee ruled him out of bounds. The drive stalled because of a fumbled snap and Pittsfield was unable to cut down the Taconic lead.
Pittsfield’s next possession came quickly as Taconic’s offense went three and out. Taking over on the Taconic 45, Muzzy connected on an awesome back shoulder fade route to junior Terrick Boire for a 24-yard completion down to the 21. Boire made an impressive play on the ball as he had to come back against two defenders and was able to reach over and secure it. Four straight Sam Sala runs later, and the senior running back was in for the touchdown from 3 yards away with 6:45 left in the game. The two-point conversion try failed but Pittsfield was back in the game with time to make a stop and get a game-winning touchdown.
The Generals got a chance with 4:08 to play in the game on the plus-44 ,and the Taconic defense stopped them. Just like they stopped with under a minute to play down on the 16 after the huge play by Figueroa to give his team one last chance.
“Our defense all year. Everyone says you’re a bend don’t break defense and I guess that’s a perfect example of it,” said Ziter.
McNeice agreed, saying, “We’re a bend don’t break defense. We knew that they were going to get their yards on us but we just had to stick together and get the stops.”
With the win, No.3 Taconic advances to the D5 championship game, where they will face the top-seeded Hoosac Valley Hurricanes.